Any illegal service or commodity that is high in demand eventually makes its way to the black market. Dr. Charles Foster of the University of Oxford believes this will happen with human cloning.
“I expect that there will be a black market [around therapeutic cloning],” said Foster in a recent interview. “The appropriate caution of the regulators when faced with potentially new uses of therapeutic cloning is likely to be seen by desperate patients and relatives as inappropriately restrictive.”
Human cloning is illegal in nearly every country, but the Human Fertilization and Embryology Act of 2008 makes studying the topic legal in the UK.
Therapeutic cloning, technically called “somatic cell nuclear transfer” (SCNT), is a process by which a cell nucleus (containing genetic material) is removed from a living being and transferred into an unfertilized egg that has also had its nucleus removed.
Human cloning technology would reinvent the process of transplanting organs. In theory, a patient receiving an organ removed from his or her clone would have a successful operation with no risk of rejection.
In 2013, BBC reported that scientists in the US were already experimenting with cloned human embryos as a source of stem cells. These cells could (in theory) be used to create organs, bone, and tissue for use in surgery.
Foster worries that such a system would lead to serious ethical problems: “If therapeutic cloning were used to produce individuals from whom organs or tissues could be harvested, there would be concerns about instrumentalization: the person would not have been created because she was wanted for herself, but because a particular type of tissue or organ was wanted.”
One can only imagine the effect such a realization would have on the psyche of cloned individuals. The process “would produce a whole new set of relationships between humans,” says Foster, predicting that human reproductive cloning will never become mainstream.
What is more likely, says Foster, is that the cloning of animals will become more common than natural reproduction.
“The commercial pressures to produce carefully engineered meat are strong. Cloned meat could therefore become cheaper than normally produced meat, and I’m not convinced that consumers will be prepared to pay the price difference for meat produced by natural reproduction,” says Foster.